Discover more from Broadway DNA Blog
What We’re Seeing: “Metra, A Climate Revolution Play With Songs”
“A catchy kaleidoscope of cataclysmic corporate climate consequences”
(Metra featuring Richard B. Watson, Rebecca Ana Peña, Cherrye J. Davis, and Corinna Schulenburg; Photo credit Isaiah Tanenbaum)
Aptly named, “Metra, A Climate Revolution Play With Songs” is a catchy kaleidoscope of cataclysmic corporate climate consequences, reflecting fragments of community, resilience, and responsibility in the face of cross-generational repercussions of repression and ruination.
Set in the year 2045, Flux Theatre Ensemble’s new play centers on an eerie near future divided into the Bubble and Outside communities, a division along class and power lines driven by a thriving fossil fuel industry reaping the benefits of disaster capitalism. We meet our protagonists in a bar on the Outside, where scenic designer Will Lowry has turned an otherwise dingy cliché of a sitcom setting into an intoxicating hodge-podge of the lost and found. Laundry lines swoop to meet eclectic junk drawer clutter, as if merging the chaotic charm of a roadside antique store with the homespun charm of Playhouse Disney’s Out Of The Box. Lowry’s designed dilapidation immediately drew to mind two similarly cozy, coyly provocative pieces of music theatre: the transnationally tragic “Once” and Korea’s long-running “빨래,” a deceptively trite rom-com centered on an illegal migrant worker (my 2017 review here).
These immediate visual associations playing political love tug-of-war aren’t far off when the enrapturing original story by Emily and Ned Hartford begins to unfurl. We meet a group of revolutionaries unexpectedly thrown together by a tangled web of historical– or manufactured– fate; a journalist, a hedge fund manager, and an ancient tree nymph together must learn to harness the power– and occasional moral dilemmas– of collective organizing needed to break an ancient cycle of greed in the face of Earth’s destruction.
The inventive and endlessly intriguing storylines blend ancient myth with sci-fi acumen, bouncing between the ancient past, recent past, and “present” (our future) with delectable dexterity (I love Dark)-- investigating who has the power to make change, who has the power to listen to all that’s come before, and channel it into what’s coming ahead. In the Hartfords’ story everything talks: trees, money, corporate-run radio, journalists, mythos. The question becomes in all the chaos, what will you listen to— and then pass down to others?
In the midst of this timeline tightrope are coercing, diegetic songs by Ned Hartford sprinkled in with care and consideration. Led mainly by a ring-leading tree nymph on the pub’s small upstage right stage à la Ryan Murphy’s iconic “Gods and Monsters,” we learn these literal siren songs can both attract and repel depending on need. Her mission to save her environmental home and family by righting the ancient wrongs done in the myth of Metra by the father Erysichthon becomes the play’s rallying point, wherein the myth and “The Process” of undoing its damage are too powerful to simply be spoken. The simplistic lyrics and melodies flow through the cast like a billowing blanket of otherworldly possession, rooting the songs’ dramaturgical function as one of Grecian communal ethos rather than contemporary character-driven musical eruptions. Accompanied by sole guitar and the beguiling rhythm of spoken word, the moments of song serve to punctuate and elongate beats of uncertainty, trauma, and transformations, emphasizing the political power of storytelling as a meta underlying motif of the show.
This heavy work is buoyed by an ensemble of surreptitiously slick storytellers. There’s Cherrye J. Davis as the headstrong hedge fund manager turned Chosen One, Cori, who wades through wariness with a poignant modern sensibility. Corinna Schulenburg brings befuddled, jaded caution to the endearing role of Sam, a trans ex-journalist persecuted by the politically righteous elite and hounded by her sense of morality in the face of dire decisions. Tree nymph Aglophonos is played with ephemeral virtuosity by Rebecca Ana Peña, pulling all the strings in her wispy network of magical flora faculties to shuttle change and controlled chaos through the course of the play with vicious tenacity. The costume she is adorned in by designer Raphael Regan is remarkable, a visually stunning foil to match everyday Cori’s stupefied reaction to being thrust into the fantastical. Rounding out the cast is Richard B. Watson as corporate bad guy Tyler, squeezed between existential threats and brutal financial arithmetic. Watson brings comedic and dramatic gravitas, transforming from rigidity to rockstar with ease and flair as he commands the play’s most pivotal and poignant moments of transgression. All-encompassing lighting by Kia Rogers aids in-turn as either electric or smooth, casting literal shadows over our characters’ battles with morality and drawing us into the technicolored complexity of the recesses of the human mind and mythos.
By choosing to center stories of personal transformation to hopefully inspire empathy, “Metra” is equal parts brutally astute and curiously hopeful. But the heavy doom-and-gloom premise that makes the plot lush with originality and urgency is also a threat; singing a song of (twisted) hope, so to speak, makes one vulnerable to saccharine cliché resolutions by virtue of needing a tidy beginning, middle, and end to a story on stage.
The potency of “Metra” is in its spillage onto the streets, its seepage into your awareness as audiences reintegrate into reality at the conclusion of an epic (in both the Grecian and sci-fi sense) two hours. Walking out to blaring sirens on trash-strewn streets next to artificial, glorified indoor foliage meant to lure LES gentrifiers, the wealth and environmental disparity of a present-day context is inescapable. New York Times headlines just this week prove the show even more astute and dizzyingly dire:
For “Metra,” the myth and might of human history and creation prove the play really is the thing.
NOTE: Continuing the award-winning audience and community-building strategy of their last nine productions, no financial transaction is required to “Metra, A Climate Revolution Play with Songs.” Instead, attendees reserve a “Living Ticket” and are welcome to donate based on Flux’s open budget and commitment to reach living wages for all artists and staff. Get your Living Ticket here and learn more here.
Flux Theatre Ensemble presents the World Premiere of
Metra, A Climate Revolution Play With Songs
Written by Emily and Ned Hartford, songs by Ned Hartford
Directed by Emily Hartford
Creative team features Jodi M. Witherell (Production Stage Manager), Will Lowry (Scenic Designer), Kia Rogers (Lighting Designer), Raphael Regan (Costume Designer), Nathanael Brown (Sound Designer), Heather Cohn (Lead Organizer), Jem Pickard (Climate Action Designer), Mackenzie Trowbridge (Production Manager), Judy Bowman, CSA (Casting Director), Corey Allen (Image Co-Designer), Jason Tseng (Image Co-Designer), Maia Soltis (Associate Costume Designer). The creative producing team also includes the Flux Creative Partners not listed above: Sienna Gonzalez, Rachael Hip-Flores, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, Alisha Spielmann, and Isaiah Tanenbaum.
Cast features Cherrye J. Davis, Ned Hartford, Rebecca Ana Peña, Corinna Schulenburg, and Richard B. Watson.
“Metra, A Climate Revolution Play With Songs” runs October 28 – November 12, 2022, at Abrons Arts Center located at 466 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002 on the Lower East Side. The performance runs approximately 2 hours, with one intermission. For more information visit https://www.fluxtheatre.org/metra-a-climate-revolution-play-with-songs/
Broadway DNA Blog is a reader-supported publication part of Broadway DNA, an international producing & licensing agency focused on connecting new shows to international opportunities. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.